FitBit: An Awesome Fitness Gadget

FitBit: An Awesome Fitness Gadget

Lately it seems like you can’t go anywhere without hearing about FitBit, a fitness tracker that is supposed to help people keep count of their caloric intake and the amount of exercise they get. FitBit encourages you to get up and walk at least 10,000 steps per day. It also takes into account the movement you do during the day and adds it to your exercise regimen. According to those who use it, it’s actually pretty accurate and a great tool for helping with weight loss and getting in shape.

FitBit also makes it easy to share your exercise routine with others. The social sharing aspects that let you upload your route to Facebook or G+ helps to keep people honest and active. The food monitor is another big help. It comes with some built-in settings that make it easy to keep track of exactly how much you’re eating and how many of what kind of calories you’re taking in.

There are many pedometers and fitness trackers out there on the market. However, FitBit is one of the few that is an all-in-one kind of deal, meaning that you can use it to track your dietary and your exercise habits, helping you to pinpoint exactly where your problem areas are and what you can do to turn those liabilities into strengths.

Do any of you use FitBit? Do you know anyone who does? Let us know in the comments below!

Motion Picture Mondays: Broadchurch and Gracepoint

Motion Picture Mondays: Broadchurch and Gracepoint

Thursday, October 2 will mark the season premiere of Gracepoint, the American version of a British police drama called Broadchurch. As someone who watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) Broadchurch, I am eagerly awaiting the release of Gracepoint which will air on FOX affiliates across the United States. So, while we’re waiting for Gracepoint to begin, let’s go over some of what made Broadchurch such a runaway hit.

Storytelling — Chris Chibnall, the man who conceived and created Broadchurch, has a keen understanding of dramatic pacing. The whole series is filled with ups and downs but never so many or so close together that you get exhausted watching it. Chibnall is a veteran police writer having worked on Law and Order UK before Broadchurch.

The actors — The casting choices for Broadchurch were excellent. David Tennant was able to portray DI Alec Hardy to the hilt, neither overemphasizing nor underplaying the character’s heart condition, tragic past, and general grumpiness. I also loved his social awkwardness. Oliva Coleman was great as DS Ellie Miller, completely believable as a small-town policewoman who struggles, at first, to keep her head above water in her first murder case but then comes into her own over the course of the series.

The backstory — The background for Broadchurch is rich but not overwhelmingly so. While there is a sense of being thrown in in media res (in the middle of things), the pick-up is perfect and lets you get to know the characters and their history without feeling false or breaking the storytelling methods.

The soundtrack — I’m not normally one to pay attention to the scoring or music for a television show but the sound track and sound effects used in Broadchurch were perfect. They helped to set the mood and to make you feel even more immersed in the drama that was unfolding in front of you.

It remains to be seen if Gracepoint will live up to the bar that Broadchurch has set. However, my schedule for this Thursday evening is cleared so that I can catch the season premiere. What about you?

Wednesday Recipes: Beef Stew Edition

Now that fall is officially here, it’s time to start looking into recipes that can not only brighten the season as the days grow shorter and the temperatures lower, but that can fill you up and keep you warm inside without giving you too much grief in preparing them. Stews and soups are favorites for this time of year since they are easy to make, reasonably easy to carry, and can be warmed up or kept stored in the refrigerator, freeing you up for helping with homework or raking the leaves.

Mama’s Beef Stew

2 pounds cubed beef stew meat
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
4 cups water
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 stalks celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water

In a large pot or dutch oven, cook beef in oil over medium heat until brown. Dissolve bouillon in water and pour into pot.

Stir in rosemary, parsley and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 hour.

Stir potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion into the pot. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 teaspoons cold water and stir into stew. Cover and simmer 1 hour more.

Beer Braised Irish Stew

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (3 pound) beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle dark beer
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 slices bacon
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1/4 cup milk, warmed
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

Heat the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot, and brown the meat in 2 batches, stirring to brown the cubes on all sides. Return all the meat to the Dutch oven, sprinkle with flour, and stir lightly to coat the meat with flour. Stir in onion, carrots, dark beer, bay leaves, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cover.

Place the Dutch oven into the preheated oven, and cook for 45 minutes; uncover, stir the stew, and cook until the beef is very tender and the liquid is reduced by half, about 45 more minutes.

Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet, and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a paper towel-lined plate. Crumble the bacon and set aside.

About 30 minutes before the stew is ready, make the colcannon: Place the potatoes into a large pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and allow to steam dry for a minute or two.

Place the cabbage into a microwave-safe bowl, and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on High for about 2 1/2 minutes; uncover (watch out for steam) and stir the cabbage. Cover and microwave for about 2 1/2 more minutes, until the cabbage is slightly tender but not mushy. Drain excess liquid, and set the cabbage aside, covered.

Place the potatoes into a large bowl, and add milk, butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Beat the potatoes with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Stir in the cabbage, crumbled bacon, and parsley until well combined.

To serve, place a scoop of colcannon onto a plate, make a hollow, and fill with braised beef stew.

How-To Back-Up and Update Your iOS Device

Last week Apple released the latest version of iOS for iPhones, iPads, and more. However, many of us who own iOS devices remember some of the earlier issues that hit when iOS7 was first released. Though there does not seem to be as many stories flying around this time around as there was the last time, it’s still probably a good idea to make a full back-up of your iOS device and the data you have stored on it in case you do encounter problems and need to rollback to a previous version.

First of all, Apple does have a very helpful step by step guide for doing this. Make sure you read through it before you start as it will save you a lot of trouble. Our tips below are for what to do if you encounter problems even after following Apple’s guidelines. Additionally, if space is an issue, consider backing up and installing the update through iTunes instead of using the Cloud.

1) Stay calm and don’t panic – While phones, tablets, computers, and even watches seem to be getting smarter, they’re still not smarter than a person. If worse comes to it, just restore from your back-up if you can.

2) Have a list of all of the apps you really need – If there are any apps you need for work or other vital matters, note them down ahead of time and any log in information you need for them. That way, if you do have to start from scratch, you don’t have to worry as much.

3) Many apps and services store your information – Don’t fret that you’ve lost access to all of your Kindle eBooks or Angry Birds settings. You may have lost your local copies of some things but they can generally be retrieved through the app once it’s back in place.

4) If your phone is bricked, don’t take it apart – If you cannot get your phone to boot up or do anything at all, contact Apple immediately. Opening your phone will void the warranty.

5) Above all, keep calm – Gadgets can be tricky and seem like they’re just working to thwart your wishes — especially during an update. However, don’t lose your temper and make things worse by slamming the phone down, jerking the cord out roughly, or throwing your phone to the ground. So long as the hardware is still working, any software problems can be overcome or gotten around.

Have you installed the iOS8 update yet? What has your experience with this been? Let us know in the comments below!

Motion Picture Mondays: The Walking Dead

Motion Picture Mondays: The Walking Dead

Warning: The AMC show The Walking Dead is rated TV-MA and is not recommended for children under the age of 16 due to violence and gore.

I’ve always been a bit of an iconoclast in that I never do what the crowd is doing just because they’re doing it. That’s how it was with The Walking Dead for me. I refused to watch it because everyone else was watching it. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it a chance and now, I’m happy to report that this show is definitely worth watching if you consider the following caveats:

1) It is a show that involves zombies/the undead so you will see characters walking around in various states of post mortem decay.

2) There is a lot of explicit violence. None of it is gratuitous and all of it has a place in the story — no one gets hurt or killed just for shock value. Still, this is a show set in a world where governmental authority has been destroyed and actual authority has devolved down to the tribal level.

3) You probably shouldn’t watch this show while eating. Just saying.

That said, The Walking Dead is an absolutely brilliant television show. The creators, writers, and show runners deserve a lot of praise because they’ve managed to pull off a show that has lots of drama, tragedy, and violence without overplaying any one of those elements. The characters are all relatable — even the ones who are complete jerks. The tragedies aren’t overblown and hit you right in the gut every time the way a good tragedy should. Sometimes, you’ll suspect that something might go wrong but it still hits you viscerally when you’re proven right. The show also poses a lot of moral quandaries and ethical question but does so without preaching or picking a side and forcing it on everyone — something that a lot of shows find it difficult to do.

There are currently four seasons out. The first three are available on Netflix but season 4 currently requires you to either have access to AMC by cable or satellite or to purchase it from iTunes or Amazon for digital download. Season 5 will begin on October 12 which is, luckily for me, only 20 days away (yes, I am counting).

If, like me, you’ve avoided this show for dumb reasons (mine being “everyone else is watching it and I want to go against the crowd”), here is a quick season-by-season rundown.

Oh, and lastly, don’t get attached to anyone. In a post-apocalyptic world, life is short. Terribly short sometimes.

Season One
The first season is very short. Only six episodes long, it throws you into the middle of things but does so in a way that you can pick up on what is going on. There is a lot to digest here but the drama and pacing is done very well. Yes, there are times when you’ll want to slap a character or scream at them but that’s just proof that the writers are on their game. After all, if you’re that attached and involved with only six episodes, that means that the characters and the writing are top notch.

Season one ends on a cliffhanger — as do seasons two, three, and four.

Season Two
Season two contains a bit of a mystery. It gives all of the characters a chance to rest, reflect, and for us to see different aspects of their personalities. Some are still coming to grips with events that happened in season one but, for the most part, this is when you start to see the paths that the characters will take and some of the paths they could have taken but did not.

You will spend some time shouting back at your screen so just be prepared and move anything that you might use as a projectile away from you and your television while watching this season.

Season Three
Season three is a roller coaster ride. It’s the first time we see multiple plots being introduced with the group being split up a bit after the events at the end of season two. Season three also brings in two major climaxes – one mid-season and the other at the end of the season. This is another season where you will find yourself wanting to shout at certain characters. You’ll also find yourself second-guessing your own moral compass about what is the “right” thing to do in various circumstances.

Season Four
Season four comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. By the time you get to the end of it, you are going to be on pins and needles. The storytelling is even stronger in this season and the characters are confronted with new triumphs and new horrors in a world gone mad. This is also the season when you start to feel the truth of the adage “what goes around, comes around.”

So, have you been watching this show? Are you considering giving it a try if you haven’t seen it? Let us know in the comments below!

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

Another week in the busy world of tech has come to a close. This week has been a banner week for business and law relating to technology. The Supreme Court has begun to strike down “do it on a computer” patents which will have huge ramifications for all of the patent trolls out there who have been hassling small and medium-sized businesses. Some of the big media companies are being warned that they can’t get away with violating patents as well. Gaming and tech journalists are being called out for dishonest reporting in the wake of GamerGate and Apple has had a good week with many announcements about iOS 8 and the new Apple Watch.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter we will replay the highlights for you below!

That’s all for this week, everyone. Have a great weekend and see you again next week.

iOS 8 And A Look Back

Apple has just released iOS8 for download. iOS8 works on iPad 2 or later and iPhone 4s or later. Earlier generation devices will not be able to install the update or run apps that require iOS8 to work. This update features improved security — something vital considering the recent photo leaks from iOS devices and the iCloud — as well as improved camera features (the iPhone is one of the most common lower-end cameras being used), SMS and voice call capabilities for iPads and MacOS computers, better communication between iOS devices for apps, group conversations using just and video, interactive notifications, improved Send Last Location to help you find your lost iOS device, Home Kit, and split-screen mode.

Much has changed since the first generation if iOS devices back in 2007. iOS was built on top of a UNIX architecture, one of Steve Job’s many innovations when it came to MacOSes. Instead of struggling to maintain an ancient codebase and re-invent the wheel at every turn, Apple was able to establish a stable kernel and core OS that they could build upon. This smaller, lighter, and more flexible operating system made it much easier for Apple to build their walled garden using iTunes to publish music, video, books, and apps that could run on mobile devices. The OSes small size and smaller power requirements gave it a longer battery life, making it ideal for mobile devices. Apple’s success bred imitation from Google with their AndroidOS, Microsoft with their updates to Windows for mobile, and others.

As mobile devices — phones, tablets, and the like — become more common and more intregral in daily life, Apple and others will need to learn to balance features and power so that devices can do more for longer without requiring onerous charging regimens or carrying multiple extra batteries.

Do you use an iOS device? Are you planning to install this update sooner or will you wait until later? Let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday Recipes: Apple Dumpling Edition

Today is Apple Dumpling Day so, in honor of the occasion, we have a couple of great apple dumpling recipes for you to add to your repertoire. Apple dumplings make great desserts and treats and are both delicious and healthy, making them a sure winner with moms and kids alike. They’re also relatively inexpensive and quick to make up which can help keep things happy in both the pocketbook and the patience departments!

Old Fashioned Apple Dumplings

1 recipe pastry for double-crust pie
6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups water
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Butter a 9×13 inch pan.

On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry into a large rectangle, about 24 by 16 inches. Cut into 6 square pieces. Place an apple on each pastry square with the cored opening facing upward. Cut butter into 8 pieces. Place 1 piece of butter in the opening of each apple; reserve remaining butter for sauce. Divide brown sugar between apples, poking some inside each cored opening and the rest around the base of each apple. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg over the apples.

With slightly wet fingertips, bring one corner of pastry square up to the top of the apple, then bring the opposite corner to the top and press together. Bring up the two remaining corners, and seal. Slightly pinch the dough at the sides to completely seal in the apple. Repeat with the remaining apples. Place in prepared baking dish.

In a saucepan, combine water, white sugar, vanilla extract and reserved butter. Place over medium heat, and bring to a boil in a large saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved. Carefully pour over dumplings.

Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Place each apple dumpling in a dessert bowl, and spoon some sauce over the top.

Country Apple Dumplings

2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
2 (10 ounce) cans refrigerated crescent roll dough
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle Mountain Dew

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.

Cut each apple into 8 wedges and set aside. Separate the crescent roll dough into triangles. Roll each apple wedge in crescent roll dough starting at the smallest end. Pinch to seal and place in the baking dish.

Melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in the sugar and cinnamon. Pour over the apple dumplings. Pour Mountain Dew™ over the dumplings.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.

Self-Driving Cars in Cali and the Internet of Things

One of today’s big stories is that this is the first day that self-driving cars (like the Google Streetcar) are now legal in California. As one of the most populous states in the union, California permitting self-driving cars is a pretty big deal.

Self-driving cars are the latest (and arguably the largest) step in the Internet of Things. I’m sure that just about everyone out there has come across or even purchased items that had built-in WiFi and Internet capability even when there seemed to be no reason for it. Items such as toasters, blenders, thermostats, ovens, refrigerators, and many other housewares. Many of these objects in the Internet of Things come with smartphone or tablet apps that can be used to control them at a distance or to set up automated schedules (such as setting your AC or heat to come on a few hours before you return from a week-long trip out of town). Many more modern cars are coming with features that allow partial control of things like the climate controls or sound controls via a tablet or smartphone. Televisions have almost all become “smart” in the past three years. And, while it will be a while before a “smart” kitchen can cook its own breakfast without some kind of elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, automation and network integration can make it easier to set up and then remotely control meal preparation and cooking.

Not exactly a smart refrigerator
So, where do self-driving cars fit in to this? That remains to be seen. Though the Internet of Things is still very small compared to the Internet of People, it is growing and the next few years will no doubt hold many interesting developments as man and machine become more heavily integrated into each others’ existence.

What do you think? Would you have a self-driving car? Or a “smart” kitchen in your house? Let us know in the comments below!

Motion Picture Mondays — Doctor Who: Listen

Motion Picture Mondays -- Doctor Who: Listen

Today we are kicking off a new addition to our blog-lineup: Motion Picture Mondays. From now on, every Monday we’ll be talking about a particular TV show, movie, or even machinima. This week, we’re going to start with one that had a lot of people talking Saturday and Sunday. Yes, it is the latest episode of Doctor Who — Listen.

I don’t want to spoil this one for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to see it (and trust me, you want to see it) so I’ll keep my remarks brief. This was a very Moffat episode with all of the spine-tingling chills and spooky moments you’ll find in his best episodes (who else still finds themselves counting the shadows after watching Silence in the Library and The Forest of the Dead?) but with a little bit more emphasis on the Doctor’s past and the ways that fear has influenced him throughout his life. There were many call-outs back to the episodes of yesteryear with quotes pulled from the Fourth, Third, and First Doctor eras. While I’m still getting used to Capaldi as the Doctor, last night was really the first time we got to see just how he is going to make his mark on the character and how he is incorporating the quirks and charms of earlier regenerations (such as Eleven and Ten’s childlike wonder at everything and Nine’s almost-reckless happy-go-lucky attitude).

All in all, a great episode with solid performances from Jenna Coleman (Clara) and Peter Capaldi. This one is definitely on my re-watch list right under The Wire and Blink. Five thumbs-up, easily.

What shows would you like us to review in the future? Feel free to make your suggestions in the comments below!